Lucy the Elephant

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Lucy, the Margate Elephant
Lucy the Elephant NJ3.jpg
Lucy in 2019
Lucy the Elephant is located in Atlantic County, New Jersey
Lucy the Elephant
Location within Atlantic County. Inset: Location of Atlantic County within New Jersey.
Lucy the Elephant is located in New Jersey
Lucy the Elephant
Lucy the Elephant (New Jersey)
Lucy the Elephant is located in the United States
Lucy the Elephant
Lucy the Elephant (the United States)
LocationMargate City, New Jersey
Coordinates39°19′14.33″N 74°30′42.85″W / 39.3206472°N 74.5119028°W / 39.3206472; -74.5119028Coordinates: 39°19′14.33″N 74°30′42.85″W / 39.3206472°N 74.5119028°W / 39.3206472; -74.5119028
ArchitectJames V. Lafferty
NRHP reference No.71000493
NJRHP No.383[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHPAugust 12, 1971[2]
Designated NHLMay 11, 1976[3]
Designated NJRHPApril 7, 1971

Lucy the Elephant is a six-story elephant-shaped example of novelty architecture, constructed of wood and tin sheeting in 1881 by James V. Lafferty in Margate City, New Jersey, approximately five miles (8 km) south of Atlantic City. Originally named Elephant Bazaar, Lucy was built to promote real estate sales and attract tourists. Today, Lucy is the oldest surviving roadside tourist attraction in America.[4]



Patenting and construction[edit]

In 1881, the U.S. Patent Office granted James V. Lafferty a patent giving him the exclusive right to make, use or sell animal-shaped buildings for a duration of seventeen years. Lafferty funded the design and construction of his first elephant-shaped building at South Atlantic City, now called Margate. He employed Philadelphia architects William Free and J. Mason Kirby for the design.[5] Lucy was modeled after Jumbo, the famous elephant with Barnum and Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth, and constructed at a cost of $25,000 - $38,000.[6][7][8]

Initially named "Elephant Bazaar", the structure stands at 65 feet (19.7 m) in height, 60 feet (18.3 m) in length, and 18 feet (5.5 m) in width and weighs about 90 tons. It is listed as the 12th tallest statue in the United States. Lucy was constructed with nearly one million pieces of wood, and required 200 kegs of nails, 4 tons of bolts and iron bars; 12,000 square feet of tin covers the exterior. There are 22 windows placed throughout the structure.[6]

Early use and sale[edit]

Originally, Lafferty brought potential real estate customers to view parcels of land from Lucy's howdah (carriage).[9] The howdah offers unique views of Margate, Atlantic City's skyline, the beach, and the Atlantic Ocean and it serves as an observation deck for modern day visitors during tours.

The structure was sold to Anton Gertzen of Philadelphia in 1887 and remained in his family until 1970. Anton's daughter-in-law, Sophia Gertzen, reportedly dubbed the structure "Lucy the Elephant" in 1902.[6] The shape of Lucy's head is characteristic of an Asian Elephant, and male elephants have tusks. Initially, the elephant was referred to as a male, but eventually became commonly known as a female.[citation needed]


Photo of Lucy in disrepair circa 1960s

Through the first half of the 20th century, Lucy served as a restaurant, business office, cottage, and tavern (the last closed by Prohibition). The building was depicted on many souvenir postcards, often referred to as "The Elephant Hotel of Atlantic City." (The actual hotel was in a nearby building, not inside the elephant.)

By the 1960s, Lucy had fallen into disrepair and was scheduled for demolition. In 1969, Edwin T. Carpenter and a group of Margate citizens formed the Margate Civic Association, which later became the Save Lucy Committee under Josephine Harron and Sylvia Carpenter. They were given a 30-day deadline to move the edifice or pay for its demolition. Various fund-raising events, the most successful a door-to-door canvass by volunteers, raised money.

On July 20, 1970, Lucy was moved about 100 yards to the west-southwest to a city owned lot and completely refurbished. It took about seven hours to move Lucy to her new location but she remained closed to visitors until 1974 when structural repairs and upgrades were complete. The building's original wooden frame was buttressed with new steel, and the deteriorated howdah was replaced with a replica. A plug of green glass set into the howdah platform refracts light into Lucy's interior.[10][7]

In 1976, Lucy was designated a National Historic Landmark, during the United States Bicentennial celebration.[7]


HABS image

Every July 20, the building's birthday is celebrated with children's games and much fanfare.

In 2006, Lucy was struck by lightning, blackening the tips of the tusks. In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy made landfall near Margate. Lucy remained unscathed, although the surge reached the building's toes and a small booth in the parking lot was blown over.[10]

On July 23, 2016, Lucy's staff announced the building's fake candidacy for President of the United States at a celebration for her 135th birthday.[11] In 2016, Lucy had 135,000 visitors at the site, 35,000 of whom took the guided tour.[7]

On February 27, 2020, Lucy began allowing overnight stays. Lucy was listed on Airbnb for $138 per night on March 17, 18 and 19, 2020. It marked the first time Lucy had been inhabited by humans since it was rented as a home in the early 1900s.[12][13]

On August 25, 2021, the Save Lucy Committee announced that Lucy the Elephant is having all of its metal skin replaced because more than 50% of its exterior has degraded beyond repair. Lucy will close on September 20, 2021, according to Richard Helfant, executive director of the Save Lucy Committee. The new overhaul will cost $1.4 million and is funded in part by a grant from the Preserve New Jersey Preservation Fund administered by the New Jersey Historic Trust. During restorations, a weatherproof scaffolding will be built around Lucy. The target for reopening is Memorial Day 2022.[14][15]

Other structures by Lafferty[edit]

Elephantine Colossus (1885–1896)[edit]

The Elephantine Colossus or Elephant Hotel, at Coney Island amusement park in Brooklyn, New York, stood 122 feet (37.2 m) tall, approximately twice the size of Lucy, with seven floors of rooms, and legs 60 feet in circumference. With the exception of the number and relative size of the windows, and the design of the howdah, its exterior was a nearly exact scaled-up replication of Lucy. It held a cigar store in one leg and a diorama in another, hotel rooms within the elephant proper, and an observation area at the top with panoramic sea views. It burned down in 1896.[16]

Light of Asia (1884–1900)[edit]

Light of Asia (dubbed Old Jumbo by locals) opened in Cape May in 1884, and was a slightly smaller version of Lucy. It was not successful and was torn down within 16 years. Lafferty was not directly involved with the construction but granted patent rights to Theodore M. Rieger, a real estate developer like himself, who sought to do for Cape May what Lafferty did with Lucy for Atlantic City[17] It is unclear whether the Light of Asia matched the quality of the other buildings; the only known surviving photo of Light of Asia appears to have been taken while still under construction with no metal skin and an incomplete head, and with yet another different howdah design.[18] A video presented to visitors inside Lucy in 2009 includes that same photo with the narration describing it as Cape May's "inferior rendition" of Lucy.[19]

Prospectus for 1893 World's Columbian Exposition[edit]

A prospectus was published in 1892 by Kirby (while Lafferty still owned the patent) for a fourth building, even larger than Elephantine Colossus and with a moving trunk, eyeballs, ears and tail as well as a Calliope in the throat, to be built for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.[20][8] No actual construction was ever attempted.

In popular culture[edit]

Lucy the Elephant in 2019
  • In 1972, Lucy appeared in the movie The King of Marvin Gardens, starring Jack Nicholson and Bruce Dern.
  • In 1979, Lucy appeared in the intro to the short-lived CBS drama series Big Shamus, Little Shamus which takes place in Atlantic City.
  • In 1980, Lucy can be briefly seen in the opening of the five time Oscar nominated film, Atlantic City, starring Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon.
  • In 1983, Lucy is shown on a postcard with a picture in the opening credits of the film, National Lampoon's Vacation.[21]
  • In 1986, Lucy appeared on an episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Fred Rogers was shown taking a short tour of Lucy.[22]
  • An ice cream shop with a living area above shaped like Lucy appears in the 1991 Disney film The Rocketeer, although the film takes place in Southern California.
  • The Jardin the Paris Elephant, a real-life large elephant structure inspired by “Elephantine Colossus”, (a larger version of Lucy, built by Lafferty in 1885 on Coney Island), is featured as the location of the boudoir of Nicole Kidman's character in the 2001 film Moulin Rouge'[23]
  • In 2006, the History Channel television series Weird U.S. featured Lucy in an episode.[24]
  • In November 2006, the building was prominently featured in an advertisement for Proformance Insurance.
  • Lucy was featured in an episode of the 2009 television show Life After People, which illustrated how the environment would take over the structure without people to maintain Lucy.
  • In a 2011 episode of Boardwalk Empire, Agent Van Alden mentions "a hotel shaped like an elephant" among the local attractions. Lucy is also briefly seen in the second-season episode "Gimcrack & Bunkum".
  • Lucy was featured in the 2012 book, Stay Close by Harlan Coben (ISBN 1101561173).
  • On April 2, 2014, Lucy appeared in a clip on an episode of Strange Inheritance, which mainly featured the World's tallest thermometer, another well-known roadside attraction.
  • On June 14, 2014, The Travel Channel's Monumental Mysteries featured Lucy the Elephant in an episode.[25]
  • April 18, 2015: Lucy was featured in the Bill Griffith daily comic strip "Zippy the Pinhead".
  • In 2015, Lucy was featured in the opening credits of the film Vacation, similar to the original 1983 film, National Lampoon's Vacation.[21]
  • The 2017 movie The Dunning Man shows footage of the effort to preserve the building.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places - Atlantic County" (PDF). New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection - Historic Preservation Office. June 2, 2011. p. 5. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 17, 2006. Retrieved July 12, 2011.
  2. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 15, 2006.
  3. ^ "Lucy, The Margate Elephant". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. June 23, 2008. Archived from the original on June 18, 2008. Retrieved June 24, 2008.
  4. ^ Jacobs, Emma (July 11, 2015). "Elephants Never Forget — And At 6 Stories Tall, This One's Unforgettable". NPR. Retrieved October 8, 2016.
  5. ^ Spellen, Suzanne (August 13, 2013). "Walkabout: J. Mason Kirby – Brooklyn's Elephant Architect | Brownstoner". Brownstoner. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  6. ^ a b c McMahon, William (1988). The Story of Lucy the Elephant. Margate, N.J.: Save Lucy Committee, Inc. p. 40.
  7. ^ a b c d "Jersey Icons: Lucy the Elephant". North Jersey. Retrieved February 1, 2018.
  8. ^ a b Walkabout: J. Mason Kirby – Brooklyn’s Elephant Architect
  9. ^ "Lucy, the Margate Elephant".
  10. ^ a b Fears, Danika. "Historic landmark 'Lucy the Elephant' survived Sandy". The Today Show. NBC News. Retrieved November 6, 2012.
  11. ^ "Lucy's 135th Birthday Party". 2016. Retrieved February 17, 2017.
  12. ^ "Lucy The Elephant: Now Listed Only On Airbnb". Lucy the Elephant. Retrieved February 27, 2020.
  13. ^ Tully, Tracey (February 27, 2020). "New Airbnb Listing: A 65-Foot-Tall Landmark Named Lucy the Elephant". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved June 14, 2020.
  14. ^
  15. ^ Rosenberg, Amy S. "Lucy the Elephant to close for $1.4 million makeover". Retrieved August 28, 2021.
  16. ^ Sideshow World: Elephantine Colossus
  17. ^ Tischler, Susan (2016). "What Happened to South Cape May?". Retrieved September 28, 2016.
  18. ^ Press of Atlantic City: Forgotten History
  19. ^ Lucy the Elephant - Margate NJ on Vimeo
  20. ^ Sideshow World: Chicago prospectus
  21. ^ a b "Lucy the Elephant". Retrieved March 26, 2015.
  22. ^ "TheKidsMagic - Mr. Rogers Episode #1570". 1986. Retrieved October 7, 2016.
  23. ^ MessyNessy (September 18, 2015). "The Forgotten Elephant of the Moulin Rouge Garden Party". Retrieved February 17, 2017.
  24. ^ "Lucy The Elephant, Margate". Weird NJ. 2007. Retrieved November 25, 2016.
  25. ^ "Lucy the Elephant". Monumental Mysteries. The Travel Channel, LLC. Retrieved December 15, 2014.

External links[edit]